Speaking necessary for translator?

I was having a chat with a friend yesterday and she was giving me flack about how being able to speak the language is necessary to become a translator. I told it was helpful, but I wouldn’t see it strictly necessary. From my experience growing up in a bilingual household, I know of few people who can understand English but are unable to produce the language beyond uttering words. I don’t have the desire to translate for a living nor would my field allow me to work in Japan any time soon, but it is an idea I like to entertain from time to time.

I was curious to know what people’s thoughts are and if anyone else has had similar conversations or experiences before?

By speaking do you mean the ability of being to output the language.

I think that it’s depends what you mean by translator ? Are you talking about being a interpret or to translate books, etc ?

For an interpret, I think you should be able to speak the language if you need to communicate with the person you are interpreting from to forward any questions, etc.

If you translate books I dont think you need to output although, you should be able to comprehend all what you can read.

I think though a good output is always good.


In my opinion, in the most meaningful ways: if you can translate, you can translate. As long as you can understand the original and produce a correct translation of good quality, your output skill isn’t that relevant.

When actual employment comes into play, I feel like it could potentially hold one back.

If someone claims to have mastery to a point of translating, and then fails to speak well (or at all) with a native, it’s easy to reach the conclusion they are overstating their skill. People don’t assume that someone will have only some of the skills, but lack others.

It’s incredibly hard to learn another language. Especially with a script of thousands of kanji with multiple readings to learn. Many also have few or no JP natives to speak with. Tutors and degrees are expensive. Speaking is a much harder skill to cultivate. A fellow JP student will understand how lopsided skills might easily happen. But most people will also assume that learning a language is mastering recognition AND output.

If something is good, it’s good. Translation work will speak for itself. But I can see how it could be bad optics if paid work is involved.


This I can agree with. There are difference occupations even within the field. Being a live interpreter requires you to be able to speak, but there are jobs(iirc) that simply require you to transcribe the target language into your native language. I am not entirely sure how it works when it comes to patents and legal documents. I wouldn’t think being able to output technical terms as a necessity for translating them, but having the ability to output in the native tongue as necessary.

This what my original thought process was. I can see people translating without ever engaging with JP native speakers, though I would imagine you’re missing a lot of cultural and social nuances in the process.

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when i first started learning japanese it was with the goal of also being able to speak, in addition to, reading the language. unfortunately a few years ago my health took a turn and i’ve lost the ability to speak. so for me, i will still learn the ‘spoken’ forms and nuances but my ‘output’ will be written and text to speech (TTS) type of formats for the foreseeable future.

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Depends what you’re using it for. If you want to translate written works into your native language, you probably don’t need to speak that well. However, by the time you get to a level of fluency where you can translate effectively, you’ll probably also speak at least decent Japanese.

I’ve been part of a couple manga translating circles where definitely not everyone has strong speaking skills, but easily manage the written translation necessary to do manga.

If you want to be an interpreter, obviously written skills won’t cut it.

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It basically depends what they meant by “necessary.” If you talk about it again, you should probably ask them to clarify.

Also, I suppose it’s important to make sure they aren’t thinking of interpretation, because that’s a totally different job.

But basically, since translation deals with converting text, it’s not literally necessary to speak while doing it.

But in practice, if you can’t speak well, you would have difficulty getting jobs or interacting with others in the industry, so saying it’s necessary in that sense is reasonable.


My friend was under the impression that being a translator was going to be my next profession(which is not), so she reasonably thought I aught to learn to speak it now. I wholly agree if it was the case, but my reason for learning it now would be to eventually (5+ years) have the opportunity to stay in japan for an extended time(either through retirement, work, vacation, or whatever life decides to throw at you).

I currently do interpretation work for my work(helping people who don’t speak English get what they need) and also some translating(making a non-English version of our flyers). I could see it as a potential career down the line, but I’ve burned out a few times already just trying to learn Japanese. I want to take my enjoying the language for recreation before even considering doing it for work.

I suppose I got a little too worked up over some miscommunication :sweat_smile: Thank you all for the replies!

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